What Lessons Can We Learn from Grief?

By: Megan Naumovski

The voice of the navigation system calls out:

Caution ahead. Construction zone on Grief Highway, slow down ahead. Exit now with caution or stay to the left to take the outer belt around the city, avoiding depressing content at all costs. Alternate route suggestion: binge-watch stupid sitcoms on Netflix until you have numbed yourself to sleep.

I want to talk about grief.  This isn’t going be easy! But this topic is important.  In fact, it is so vital I had to consult an expert. According to C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed,

Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game ‘or else people won’t take it seriously.’ Apparently, it’s like that. Your bid—for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity—will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it.  And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horrible high; until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpence but for every penny you have in the world.  Nothing less will shake a man—or at any rate a man like me—out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs.  He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses…

Grief Surpasses Culture and People

Grief

Grief is an odd thing.  A truly transformative thing that should be where we stake our bets on what kind of strength resides within us when we are confronted with a loved-one’s death.

Our old neighbors were from India and became like family to us. The husband told me once of nursing both of his parents through cancer to their deaths, and all as a teenager and young adult.  He explained that in his culture they had something like “the crying”. For days after a loved-one’s passing, they stopped the world, and wept.  “We didn’t sleep; we barely ate…we just received visitors who wept and grieved with us.” It sounded horrific to me at the time, but in a culture where we feign self-control, it would seem contrary to our “togetherness”.

My Grapple With Grief

I was the last to go into my mother-in-law’s hospital room. A moment away from trying to be brave and helpful to my husband, father-in-law and siblings because I knew they had more “right” to be upset than I did.  I also knew that I had to face my own earthly separation from her, and so with a deep breath I entered her room.

Our three aunts were there, weeping together (yet somehow very alone). We greeted each other attempting to comfort one another with tearful embraces.  I approached the empty chair next to my mother-in-law, who laid peacefully on her hospital bed only an hour or two after she had passed. The next moment took my breath away—literally.

Shockingly, a spiritual vacuum seemed to engage and take hold of my soul. Tears, sobs, and the very breath pulled out of my lungs for what felt like an eternity. My stomach knotted and twisted in a way I never thought possible. I sobbed in a way I had never done before.

Grief Engulfs You

As my lungs continued to viciously choke breath forward, my memory mourned every sweet word she had ever said to me. Every stitch she had sewn into my clothing and every bite of every delicious food she prepared as if all meals were a wedding feast.  Mostly, I mourned the way she accepted me as her daughter.  She loved us all so well and united her suffering with Christ.

I think the level of my grief was shocking to me, and to my husband’s dear aunts, who were suddenly silent; perhaps suspended in the shock of what had overtaken me.  I wanted to calm down. To control myself from what was perhaps too dramatic of a reaction, maybe even frightening to them. Yet it was too late! The door opened and grief entered in. I had no other option but to give it a place to rest its feet for a while.

From Grief to Good

It’s difficult to discuss this moment of pain and loss of self-control, but there is love in the offering.  A revelation of grief as C.S. Lewis admits that writing “A Grief Observed” was recognition that “bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.”

During the event of my mother-in-law’s passing, we all experienced the loneliness of grief. This occurred whether we were together in the same room or not.

Grief is a solitary experience.  People connect with one another in a way that impresses upon the soul.  Our experiences seem to form a linear bond of relation that can never be duplicated by two other people; we can’t even recreate the exact same moment of interchange or experience that we had with another person again.  Each moment of interaction with another person holds its own relevance in time and eternity.

Our actions and relationships help shape us into the person we are today— better or worse.  These are the things that we mourn at separation.  While I was hugging my mother-in-law, I recalled the words she stated at my bridal shower. The same type of care and love her mother displayed all her children.  My father-in-law was remembering sweet embraces of their early marriage. He also endured in supporting in the days before her death.   My brother-in-law missed the way she laughed at his joy. My husband missed his mother who always encouraged him.

Seek Love During Grieving

When God our Father reminds us through his son, Jesus, that the greatest commandment is love. Love God first. Then love our neighbor as ourselves. He knew that every word, look, impression, feeling, condemnation, encouragement and connection built an interior experience that is outside of time and space.

Everything counts. The preciousness of human relationships is entwined in the great tapestry of the Master.  Listen intently, O little creature of His; ask for a pure heart that sees the other with His eyes. Go forward with a prudent pace, a burning heart and a desire to delicately preserve those in your path today with the knowledge that each encounter will be forever imprinted on their soul and yours.

This article was inspired by a recent viewing of the movie Unplanned. I cried a gut-wrenching grief. Such grief has been a rare experience since the day of my sweet mother-in-law’s passing.

Our Lady of Consolation Shrine Carey, OH


Megan Naumovski is on a mission to remind the world of the love God has for each and every soul, and how that love deserves our response. Every day she is a wife and mom in her domestic church, but in the world she helps lead others to Christ though ministry leadership, teaching, speaking and blogging at The Domestic Church of Bosco, http://boscoworld.blog.

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Containing Joy—Rainbow Baby After Miscarriage Maelstroms

rainbow babyLife events such wedding your best friend, celebrating an anniversary, graduating school, overcoming major illnesses, and learning to overcome addictions normally lead a person to joy. Usually such cathartic experiences bring incredible joy—joy that cannot be contained! However, I am currently struggling to bring myself to seize the joy of the anticipate birth of my fourth child. Let me provide a little background to clarify my hesitancy.

Past Losses Make Current Joy Tough

Dating back to late 2017 and beginning of 2018, my wife and I lost two children due to miscarriage. Because of the previous loss, and the insane amount of pain associated with it, I conditioned my heart, mind, and soul to be cautious. In fact, I guarded my expectations to prevent possible pain of future loss. As a result, I am neutral, stoic, non-responsive to the current joy in my life!

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Sifting through writings, thoughts, and quotes about miscarriage I came across profound wisdom from the great C.S. Lewis,

If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing that she may still hope to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.

Okay to Feel Joy Again

While I am not a mother, the Christian apologist’s words still pertain to me and my fatherhood [really any father who suffered the misfortune of having a child not survive pregnancy. A lot of my writings over the course of the year relate to my suffering, pain, distress, worry, and ultimate purgative experiences with miscarriage. Along with the pain and memory of hope dashed, I struggled mightily with letting my guard down to feel joy, to reacquaint myself with happiness of a birth announcement, and to re-orient myself toward hope.

According to Bishop Robert Barron in his book Catholicism, “We say something is beautiful—a face, a painting, a golf swing—when it hangs together as one (it has wholeness), when all of its parts work together in consonance (it has harmony), and when it shines forth as an archetype of what such a thing should be (it has radiance).” A family missing a member(s) cannot reflect the truth and power of the Holy Trinity. I sense that same is true for my family now.

God is in control

Always a Plan

Gazing at my three children playing at the park and helping each other go up the various climbing apparatuses or going down the slides, I imagined a fourth playing. Difficult to describe this scene it occurred more in the inner recesses of my heart that actually a physical vision or daydream.   During my wife and I’s engagement we talked about being open to life, raising a larger family, and we both seemed to desire [at least open to the desire] for at least four children. We cannot describe this desire in mere words. I just believe God’s Providential plan is at work in my life.

I pray for continued support, strength, and opportunities to unleash the joy of the Gospel during our family’s time of anticipation and cautious yearning for a safe birth and delivery of our child!

 

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Sufferings of a Simple Catholic

To be honest, I did not think I have the strength to even write about anything today. I thought exerting any real mental exercises and strain today would lead to my incapacitation. What am I talking about? Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, I probably am not in a good frame of mind at this point of the week. Let me at least try to explain my situation and I can let you be the judge of that.

Over the course of the past week I’ve experienced the funeral of my grandfather and persistent fevers and severe flu-like symptoms from everyone in my family including: my three young children.  I’m nearly exhausted the amount of PTO I’m able to utilize for this month–and possibly the next month. Both my wife and I are sleep deprived. I’m definitely past the point of exhaustion and almost crossed the line of delirium.

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I’ve really struggled in my spiritual life the last week. Frankly, my relationship with God has been fractured and virtually nonexistent. Sure I could point to several valid (but are they truly!) reasons for why I have not relied on God during my time of turmoil. Some of you may be quick to forgive me—others maybe not. Ultimately, I need to ask Our Father in Heaven for forgiveness.

Doubt, despair, hopelessness, destitution, weakness in faith, and spiritual sloth have been the fruits of my suffering. Jesus Christ clearly teaches in Luke 6:43-45,

43“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles.45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

indictment

My reactions to the suffering I encountered this week are an indictment on my spiritual resolve. The one benefit to my failings in my spiritual life is that one thing is clear – I’m at a crossroads. I can either choose the path of sanctity through redemptive suffering or I let wallowing in self-pity dominate my attitude and view suffering as purposeless.

The central event of human history is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His redemptive suffering ties together the fabric of reality. Every person is given a choice: to accept the cross gracefully or flee from it. Sometimes people choose the cross during a significant watershed moment in their life – like Saint Paul’s conversion. Most people have to choose the cross of Jesus Christ daily. This choice is the most important choice in our life. This choice determines whether we are a saint, a child of God, or sycophant of the world.

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St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Suffering will come, trouble will come – that’s part of life; a sign that you are alive. If you have no suffering and no trouble, the devil is taking it easy. You are in his hand.” I need to be continually reminded that suffering is part and parcel of living. Only by joyfully taking up my struggles and uniting them to the redemptive suffering of Jesus’ suffering, death, and Resurrection will I truly find moments of peace during the storms of life!

 

Hope-Slider

Dear Lord,
Help me [us all] to remember in these troubled times
The cross you carried for my sake,
So that I may better carry mine
And to help others do the same,
As I offer up (my sufferings) to you
For the conversion of sinners
For the forgiveness of sins
In reparation for sins
And for the salvation of souls. Amen

 

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The Legacy of the Gospel

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“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” Jedi Master Obi-wan Kenobi warned the evil Darth Vader moments before his death via  the crimson blade of the Sith lord. I got to admit I thought this line seemed pretty lame as the audience does not get to witness the resurrection or return of Obi-wan in his physical form. I felt a sense of disappointment as I loved this Star Wars character. Years have passed since my first binge watching of the cinematic intergalactic series. New educational experiences, life events, and spiritual moments shaped me into the person that I am currently. Re-watching Episode IV: A New Hope allowed me to view Obi-Wan’s final words in a different perspective—through the lens of hope [no pun intended]!

According to G.K. Chesterton, “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead (Chapter 4 Ethics of Elfland, Orthodoxy). What the great English journalist means is that death does not disqualify a person from impacting the present. The weight of tradition should be pondered and analyzed whenever present life’s realities are discussed. I found the joy of Chesterton’s seminal work Orthodoxy in early 2017. I am convinced my discovery of Chesterton did not simply occur by random chance—Divine Providence directed this seeming coincidence. Fast-forwarding to the beginning of 2018, the words of Obi-Wan and Chesterton, fiction and fact intersected in the event of my grandfather’s death in mid-January. Having been able to process his passing a single word remains steadfast in my mind with I ponder his life—legacy.

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The dictionary defines the word legacy as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past”. Legacies pervade nearly all topics and discussions. NFL players always strive to leave a good and lasting legacy—they especially ponder this during the sunset of their careers. Politicians seek legacy that extends beyond their time in elected office. The mark of a great legacy is the ability for it to stand the test of time. Assuming this is the gold standard upon which all legacies are judged, I wager that the legacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest and most permanent of all legacies!

Matthew 28:19-20 details the great commission of Jesus to his Apostles, “Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,20i teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Through the force, power, inspiration, and protection of the Holy Spirit the Good News of the Gospel is able to be passed on from generation to generation without fear of distortion or corruption of Jesus’ message. The Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes this sentiment in paragraph 74,

God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”:29 that is, of Christ Jesus.30 Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth:

God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations.31

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Death is not a finale for people with believe in and love truth. Instead, authentic love and obedience to the truth of the Gospel leads to an encore of life—life in eternity. A prime example of an “Obi-Wan instance” is the martyrdom of St. Stephen. In the face of his impending death by stoning, confident in Divine Providence he declared, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Similar to Obi-Wan, Stephen did not seek vengeance for his murderers—rather he asked God to forgive them (Acts 7:60). The Early Church Father Tertullian famously said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church“.  St. Stephen’s death acted as a catalyst to God performing arguably one of His greatest miracles—the conversion of Saul [great killer of Christians] to Paul [great evangelizer of Jesus Christ].

Reflecting on the death of my grandfather gave rise to several emotions: sadness, joy, sorrow, and hope. My grandfather left a legacy of a wife of 67 years, eleven children, and a multitude of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The greatest legacy he left—was continuing the legacy of the Gospel. Started by Jesus and kindled by the saints through the ages, I am confident my grandfather lived a life worthy to be called a child of God.

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Us to death: If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine [as long as we continue to hope in the Lord]!

 

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Examples of a [Grand]Father

Early this week, my grandfather passed away at the age of 95. He left 11 children my grandmother in an abundance of Grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. It is with more sadness and joy that I write today. My family – and the world – lost a holy man. His passing provided me an opportunity to pause to reflect on my own life. Sometimes it is important to stop and assess our spiritual life. Reflecting on my own path of holiness I need to take stock of whether I am living as God intended of me. Am I the best possible husband my wife deserves? What virtues may I improve on to become the best version of myself for my children? How am I doing as a Catholic man in today’s world?

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Saint Joseph is the Standard upon which all fathers should be measured on their greatness. St Josemaria Escriva said this about the foster father of Jesus, “St. Joseph was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things. He did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do, in each and every event that went to make up his life. ”  I am convinced my grandfather model his life after St. Joseph. As a farmer, husband, and father, himself my grandfather diligently and humbly worked to provide for his family and lived in obedience of God.

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Obviously, we become biased toward our family members and especially hold them in higher regard after their passage from this life into the next. However, I have evidence that my grandfather modeled his life after the greatest male saint of all–Joseph. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 7:16-20,

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.k16l By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.19Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.20So by their fruits you will know them.

good tree

I see the holiness in my own father. I see my dad‘s humble witness to truth and to love for both my mother myself my siblings and the Catholic teaching. While my dad is a holy man in his own right, I believe his path towards holiness was forged in the days all his youth by my grandfather. I see loving examples of husbands and fathers in my uncles as well.

The example of a holy father figure carries a lot of weight. Its effects are tangible and stand the test of time.  “Nothing is so strong as gentlenessNothing is so gentle as real strength,” proclaimed Saint Francis de Sales. The gentle, patient, and humble example upon which my grandfather lived his life will not fade with his death. Instead, the legacy of strong father figures is continued in my father and uncles. Ultimately, I am faced with an important question: which kind of father do I want to exemplify to my own children? I hope to live up to the gold standard example of my grandfather’s [and St. Joseph’s] humble life. I continue ask God to give me grace to become the best version of myself on my pilgrim pursuit toward a joyous life!

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A Plea to the Lord in Time of Need

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Lord I hate sin and death. I loath injustice in the world. I despise my inequities, my feelings of doubt nearly every day of my life. I want this depression to leave me. I am weary from the fight against myself, my fears, and the constant barrage of assaults against the devil. Death seems to surround us at all times. Wars, natural disasters, political strife dominate the news climate. Darkness lurks over me in recent times. My grandfather is nearing the completion of his earthly life and  there is a great chasm in my soul left by the wound remaining from the loss of my unborn daughter Lucia.
The only suitable response in the face of this suffering and overwhelming despair is to petition you Lord God the Almighty to send me strength and consolation in my moments of weakness. I plea for the support of the Blessed Virgin Mary along with her Holy cache of saints to protect me from the prowess and threats of the Evil One.

Amen.

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A Letter to Lucia

Below is a letter I wrote to my unborn daughter Lucia Faustina who we buried on 12/19/2017.

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Dear Lucia,

 

Today, I stood aside a grave of another unborn child. I will never be able to hold you in my arms, or gaze joyfully at your face, or comfort you when you cry. It is not natural for a father to bury his child. This is truly a surreal and somber experience. Hope is the only thing getting me through this day–this week. The virtue of hope will be key to helping me through the next several months as I grapple with the loss of my sweet daughter.

Your name means “light”. Lucia I pray for strength to live out my vocation as a husband and father to your amazing mother and siblings. I guarantee that your brothers and sister would adore you. I am also confident that you are looking over us in communion with Jeremiah, St. Lucy, the Blessed Virgin and all the other saints in Heaven. Please send our Heavenly Father my supplications for daily pardon and peace. I am reeling from losing you, but I understand that hope can never be lost if I cling to God’s Providence. May the light of God radiate upon your family as you provided light to your mother and I even though it was for what seemed a fleeting moment.

Your siblings and your mother deeply miss you. We hope to be united with your after our pilgrim journey in this life is completed.

With great love and gratitude,

Your father

P.S. I conclude with a prayer to St. Lucia asking for intercession to help my family heal:

Saint Lucy

Whose beautiful name signifies ‘LIGHT’

by the light of faith which God bestowed upon you

increase and preserve His light in my soul

so that I may avoid evil,

Be zealous in the performance of good works

and abhor nothing so much as the blindness and

the darkness of evil and sin.

Obtain for me, by your intercession with God

Perfect vision for my bodily eyes

and the grace to use them for God’s greater honor and glory

and the salvation of souls.

St. Lucy, virgin and martyr

hear my prayers and obtain my petitions.

Amen.

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